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Families Still Struggling With Loss 20 Years After Oakland Firestorm

OAKLAND (KCBS) – Thursday marks 20 years since an out-of-control inferno raced across the Berkeley and Oakland Hills. What came to be known as "The Firestorm" scorched 1,500 acres, claimed 25 lives and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.

Many things since that tragic day have changed, including the way the Bay Area responds to wildfires. But the lives of so many families were forever changed by the deadly blaze.

KCBS' Doug Sovern Reports:

It doesn't seem like 20 years ago for Peter Gray Scott of 1047 Alvarado Road.

"We think about it practically everyday," he said. "So many things were lost."

Among the things Scott lost – his 85-year-old mother, Frances, who was invalid and home alone that day. While the rest of the family wasn't home, Scott's 13-year-old daughter Ginny tried to get back up the hill to rescue her trapped grandmother.

"She called 911 several times and they basically told her, 'don't bother us. Everything is under control, everybody has been evacuated,'" said Scott.

Frances Gray Scott died at 1047 Alvarado with 13-year-old Ginny finding her remains. Of the 25 families who lost someone in the fire, the Scotts were the only ones to rebuild their incinerated home and move back in, just nine months later.

"We, in part, saw it as a challenge to become an example of people who come back and rebuild and do it with energy and optimism," Scott said.

He would go on to design 10 other homes and the new firehouse in the area. Ginny and her little sister grew up watching the resurrection of their neighborhood, from smoldering lots to supersized spec houses. But Scott said his daughter was increasingly troubled.

"She was damaged by the fire. The fact that she found my mother's body first," he said.

Three years ago, at the age of 31, Ginny Scott committed suicide, hanging herself at home right where the family had buried some of her grandmother's ashes.

"I think she just ultimately was in so much pain that she just couldn't go on," her father said.

The Scotts have since discovered a suicide cluster among young firestorm survivors.

"Within a two block radius of our house, four people who were young during the fire have either committed suicide or attempted suicide multiple times," Scott said. "And I was talking with someone in Lower Alvarado and they said it's the same thing here."

But despite the tragedy, this is home for the Scotts and they remain as connected and committed to it as ever.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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